Like many single dads, Bobblehead Dad’s life just kind of happens around him. His job? Keep up.
If variety is truly the spice of life, then my life as a parent sometimes feels like the entire baking aisle at the local grocery store. Some days it’s paprika, others seem like lavender. I’ve had many a morning that started off with a touch of marjoram, afternoons sprinkled with allspice and an abundance of evenings tasting like plain old vanilla extract.
I’m a single parent. Single as in sole, 24/7. With three kids and two dogs at the center of my world. While my days are filled with a fair amount of consistency—like morning wake-up rituals, garbage pick-up on Mondays and Thursdays, feeding the dogs at precisely 7 a.m. and 3:30 PM—I’ve finally come to terms with the reality that much of my life just happens.
Like last minute runs to Walgreens to pick up a poster board for tomorrow’s project. Or washing that special shirt before school because today is “Spirit Day.” Sometimes there’s the call from the school nurse informing me about a surprise fever. Or a forgotten lunch. Late afternoons are often lost because of a run to school to talk to a teacher because, well, the teacher wants to talk. Then the dogs eat a sock and need to see a vet, the car magically produces a flat tire, someone finished off the milk necessitating a morning run to 7-11 and dinner doesn’t get cooked because child #2 simply needs me to sit on her bed and talk.
And that’s to say nothing of the middle-of-the night puking sessions that require an emergency load of laundry at 4 a.m.
But this is not a complaint. It’s life. Like so many other single parents doing it alone—men and women—it’s the norm. It’s the life we were given.
I’ve been doing this for a while, and over the years I’ve adjusted my mindset. Originally I viewed myself as a dad who had to play dual roles. That was a hard, unrealistic attitude because I was unknowingly setting myself up for failure. Today, I just view myself as a parent. Not a dad. Not a mom. Just the parent. And I’ve learned to be comfortable in that role because it’s what my kids need from me.
In fact, that’s how I learned to guide my life as a parent: I focus on my children’s needs. I try not to think about my goofy stereotypes. There are only three people on whom I focus: my children. Around the house, I simply do what needs to be done. Sure I’ve learned to tackle every conceivable domestic job—cooking, laundry, cleaning and all that. That’s the easy stuff.
The harder stuff is switching emotional roles depending on the child and the circumstance.
Sometimes kids need tough love. Sometimes they need to be held. They need to be disciplined with a firm lecture and other times they simple want you to sit on the floor in their bedroom and listen. Or play a game. The funny thing is the more I make myself vulnerable emotionally to my kids, the easier it is to float in an out of the myriad of foreign situations I find myself in. Hanging out in Victoria’s Secret rummaging through the “sales” table of “4 for $20” bras? No sweat. Decorating birthday cakes, baking pies, hemming pants? I’m a “C” student at best. But my kids don’t mind. But whether it’s taking my daughter over to get a mani-pedi before a school dance or dealing with the volumes of issues that all teenage girls face, if I don’t do it who will?
Focus on them, I tell myself. That’s all I can do.
What surprises me most is how other parents react to me. Grade school parents, by far, can be the toughest. It comes in two forms: moms who want to treat you like you’re a lost puppy and dads who basically hate you. It’s weird.
The mom contingent is made up of women who, upon seeing you walk into school carrying a tray of cupcakes, shout out, “Oh, that’s so sweet to see a dad do that!”
It’s my day to bring in treats. What are they expecting from me? A case of beer? It’s surprising to me how so many moms have a difficult time accepting me hanging out in the world that’s predominantly their domain from nine to five. Ladies, I don’t have a choice in this.
The absolute worst part, however, is the small collection of dads I bump into at school activities who, upon meeting me, start the conversation with, “Yeah, I’ve heard about you.” Then it’s the smirk. Then the arms folded thing. Then the look up and down.
And then I quickly replay in my mind why I’m getting this guy’s attitude. Oh, yes! Now I remember! It must be the planning meeting I had with his wife—and six other moms—at Starbucks last Tuesday.
But it comes with the turf. And don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of parents out there get it. Moms and dads alike. In their eyes, I’m nothing more than the best—and worst—of them. Just another parent trying to get it right.
OK, the timer is going off. My pie must be ready. Have a good one.